Digest>Archives> Sep/Oct 2020

From the Commodore

“A Commodore’s Cuisine”

By Debra Baldwin


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Frederick P. Dillon

I was welcomed at the [6th] district office, discussed the problems with the Superintendent and was assisted in planning trips on the busy tenders to interfere as little as possible with the district program off work. I saw the actual functioning of the district which was my object.

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Range lights were established on Daufuskie ...

Often the Superintendent arranged to accompany me on those trips. The tender’s steward’s department was of the best and I often remarked I ate my way around the Lighthouse Service, for the cooks always took especial pains to feed the Inspectors well.

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This 1925 image of famous Antoine’s Restaurant in ...

In Maine, the tender tied up to a dock where a company kept live lobsters in a barge full of sea water very handy for the tender’s cook. I learned how to eat broiled lobster served with special plyers to crack the claws for the tender meat.

In Charleston, S.C., I had delicious prioleau (named for a French Huguenot of early Charleston, but pronounced Perlo) of various kinds, seasoned with choice spices and flavored with some kind of meat, chicken, shrimp, oyster, pork, beef, etc.

In New Orleans, at a special meeting of the Department of Commerce representatives with local celebrities, I had a nine-course dinner at Antoines when the meal started off with Oysters a la Roosevelt served in halves of large clam shells.

In San Francisco, there was abalone steak. I was blessed with a good digestion and I liked everything. I was particularly fond of salmon steak, a rare dish in those days. At Ketchikan, Alaska, while waiting for the lighthouse tender Cedar to return to the depot, I stayed at the only hotel in town and noted on the breakfast menu, broiled salmon steak. “Ah! Wonderful,” I thought. For lunch – broiled salmon steak. “Oh, I could eat salmon steak three times a day,” and that was all they served three times a day for four days in succession until the tender arrived. When I left Alaska, I did not eat salmon steak for a long time.

. . . One evening, Captain Redell on the Snowdrop approached my quarters, knocked at the door and said, “Mr. Dillon, did you ever go ‘floundering’?” “No,” I replied. “But you fellows have done a hard day’s work. You ought to res’ up.” “But we got all the gear for it,” the Captain said eagerly. “Tonight’s the night. Full moon about midnight and the flounders will be thick inching their way up the sandy bottom with the tide in clear water not far from here.” “Well, it’s up to you,” I said. “I’d like to see how you do it.”

The crew had already made plans. A batteau (flat-bottomed rowboat) was lowered astern from the davits, equipped with a gasoline flare at the bow, two or three “grains” (barbed spears) were aboard and the party shoved off near midnight to the well-known spot.

The tide was still coming in and, as it crept up the beach, so did the flounders slide up in the shallow clear water. Whispered one of the crew, “It’s like taking candy from a baby.” Down went the spears and the batteau was full in no time. All hands missed a couple of hours of sleep but it was a unique experience for me. The cook selected all he could use for the Snowdrop’s mess and the remainder were given to the families at Daufuskie Island Light Station.

These excerpts were taken from “Lighthouse Engineer, Sixth District, Charleston, S. C., 1911 to 1917” and “Superintendent of Lighthouses on General Duty: January 4, 1927 to September 1, 1933” in The Making of a Lighthouse Engineer, the unpublished memoirs of Commodore Frederick P. Dillon.

This story appeared in the Sep/Oct 2020 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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